Sunday, June 26, 2011

Never give up, the relentless pursuit of excellence

Never give up, the relentless pursuit of excellence
Lubbock Avalanche Journal
Posted: June 25, 2011 - 11:36pm

This week, I am re-publishing an interesting article by Mr. Phil Innes, publisher of the Vermont Views Magazine. He always has a unique and interesting take about chess. Enjoy!

Why I am sick and tired of reading about Susan Polgar?

You see her here you see her there, you see her everywhere in print from coast-to-coast, and now or at least very soon, on varieties of television programs, including very prominent ones. A hundred articles already this year in mainline print media. Are you sick of this too?

We have seen her in Mexico City surrounded by 30,000 fans; then in Florida surrounded it seemed by that many media people during a successful attempt on the Guinness Book of records simul, in Texas opening SPICE, a new metro chess HQ, at Texas Tech University and even on the cover of Parade and Lifestyles magazines with prominent celebrities from our time and before.

Are you approaching your Polgar-limit?

Frankly, I am getting sick of it. This woman is traveling about the country promoting chess development for young people, especially young women, and successfully getting herself into mainstream media twice per week.

I ask myself all sorts of questions about my resentment; “Is it because I don’t like chess promotions?” and “Am I jealous?” and “Do I somehow, as a secret factor kept from my conscious self, not want to see chess promoted?” and “Is it because she is female?” or “because she is not born here” and “insert your own miserable question,” why one has Polgar-exhaustion.

And I answer to all these questions; “NO.”

It is because she seems to be the only person doing it. Now – I know about other people who promote chess, there is the excellent Jude Acers and I know about the historic George Koltanowski, the very sort of American Staunton who promoted chess, but the Polgar phenomena in the States is at a greater level. Quantitatively she is achieving an average of two major media write-ups per week, vastly exceeding all other players and institutions combined.

Why should I resent this? Because I compare it to the paid staff of US Chess Federation, some 30 people, who achieve two articles in major media, not per week, but per year.

Ostensibly both the Susan Polgar Foundation and the United States Chess Federation exist for the same purpose – to further chess into mainstream culture. Yet anyone reading these statistics, or even the newspapers, and who had a few dollars to promote chess, would make their choice as a no-brainer! Which of the two actually can be said to promote chess into mainstream culture in a superior way? My ten dollars is going to get 100 here and 2 there…

In effect I am asking “what’s the matter with the rest of us?”

Next week my friend, Mr. Paul Truong, director of marketing and public relation for Texas Tech SPICE, is going to send me two more articles beginning “Susan did …” and this is an obnoxious practice, no? I really want to send him something beginning, “This week Maurice….” or “coming soon, a Brit GM tour of the States, taking in the following cities…” and of course the friendly jibe “take that! Mr. T.” but damned if I am good enough to do it!

But I am going to try to put one in his eye, and so should you, dear reader.

This Polgar woman has proven that it can be done. She has demonstrated that Americans have a huge interest in the well-being of their sons and daughters, and are conscious of what benefits them, and to whom they can relay this aspiration and trust.

She has also demonstrated that it does not take a million dollars to begin, or ‘going Hollywood’ and relying on glamour. In person Susan Polgar is a quiet spoken individual, modest, attentive to other’s opinions, but most of all, dedicated. Am I a bit “struck?” Sure! But I am also a mean, sometimes a very mean realist.

In short, this person is not cute, she is compelling.

So what’s the matter with the rest of us?

We should follow this lead and compete on several broad fronts, and do so without distortions by simply representing the real nature and character of our game as genuinely as we can – with complete confidence that the general public is receptive. If I have learned anything from these exposures to Susan Polgar, it is this!

We should not do this in order that I can write my friend Paul Truong, wiping his eye! He would be the first to applaud the effort (whatever the result). We should do this because we have to-date misled ourselves that it cannot be done. Somehow we convinced ourselves in this country that unless Robert James Fischer is looking over your shoulder… and that the American public has no interest otherwise… we convinced ourselves that Americans cannot generate grandmasters and that we could not follow Olympiad victories in the thirties which provided four gold medals from four attempts.

This Polgar woman disproves both our objections as to our capability and to the public’s reception of chess, and for all these reasons I hope her share of the chess-development market is sensibly diminished in proportion, while the volume of her reported contributions increases.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Chess Girls

Susan Polgar Inspires "Chess Girls"

Chess Grandmaster Susan Polgar's life is portrayed in the new BBC radio documentary "Chess Girls."

Written by Melanie Hess

Susan Polgar’s parents defied the government in communist Hungary to school their daughter in a highly unusual way– chess, eight hours a day, every day.

Now a grandmaster, Polgar’s story of ascension to worldwide fame through her childhood as a unique education experiment is portrayed in BBC’s recent production, “Chess Girls.”

Polgar, who is well known for breaking the gender barrier in chess by becoming the first female grandmaster, had anything but a normal upbringing. The BBC radio documentary, which premiered June 16, shares the exceptional progression of Polgar and her two sisters, Judit and Sofia.

“My father had that idea even before I was born. When he had children he’d like to raise them in a special way,” Polgar said, “focusing on a certain area and trying to excel, rather than kind of being mediocre in many things.”

“Chess Girls” dramatized the irregularity of Polgar’s schooling and noted that the media was often surprised to hear the Polgar girls genuinely say they were happy.

Polgar said her family was often criticized, but she never felt negatively about her early days.

“My childhood was good,” Polgar said. “It was certainly very natural because it was the only environment I knew, so that was very normal for me.”

At 15 years old, Polgar was ranked as the number one women’s chess player in the world.

“I was pioneering in open competition,” Polgar said. “At that time, it was simply revolutionary because most women simply admitted that they are not as good as the men, just like in physical sport. Even though, chess is not a physical sport, but a mental exercise. Therefore, that has been a major theme of my career, to fight for gender equality.”

In her current position as the director of the Susan Polgar Institute for Chess Excellence (SPICE) and Knight Raiders coach, Polgar employs many of the same techniques her father used to help her achieve her status today.

“I incorporated all the different knowledge I acquired over the years,” Polgar said. “And I am trying to share the best of it with our chess team members here.”


Thursday, June 23, 2011

Pack your bags! You're heading to Lubbock!

Ronnie Polaneczky: Knights gather to fulfill girl's chess dream
June 18, 2011|By Ronnie Polaneczky, Daily News Columnist

YOU KNOW the best part of my job? Calling someone who's been in a pickle and letting her know that her troubles are over.

That was my happy task yesterday, when I phoned Vanita Young and told her to pack her bags, she was going to Texas.

"Oh, my God! That's crazy! Thank you!" said Vanita, 17, when she learned that a benefactor would pay her way to the prestigious Susan Polgar (Girls') Chess Invitational next month in Lubbock (at Texas Tech University).

The rainmaker? Philly's own U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, who read my column about Vanita over breakfast yesterday and then phoned his aide Ken Smukler to say, "We've got to make it happen for this girl."

Smukler called Joe Watkins at Students First PA, a pro-charter- school group, because Vanita attends a charter school - she's a junior at Walter D. Palmer at Broad and Master streets.

"If these guys are so in favor of charter schools, they need to support the kids who go there," said Brady.

Watkins agreed and the deal was done, within hours.

"You write a helluva story, what can I say?" Brady said.

In this case, the story's irony was heartbreaking: Vanita had been selected to attend the most prestigious girls' chess event in the country - only one girl is invited from each state - but could not afford to attend it.

Especially cruel is that chess, Vanita told me, is the thing that pulls her through sad days. And she has had her share of them.

"It's been a tough life for her," said her grandmother, Algloria Evans, who with husband, Raymond, has raised Vanita from toddlerhood. Vanita's mom abandoned her, and her dad, who battled the bottle, died in 2007. Father and daughter were close and his death took a toll.

Vanita "was already devastated about not having her mother around," Evans said. "When she was little, she called every woman 'Mommy' because she missed her mom so much. I said to her, 'I know I am your grandmom, but until your mom comes back, you can call me Mommy.' "

Vanita's mother never returned.

"She's a wonderful girl. She has worked very, very hard for this honor," said Evans.

No wonder her story inspired so many readers - many of whom phoned the After School Activities Partnership after my story ran, offering help.

"We've had people calling all day, and we've have to tell them that [Brady] has already come through," said ASAP executive director Maria Walker, who initially contacted me about Vanita. Her group runs the chess programs that have nurtured Vanita's love of the game.

"We don't want to be taking money for Vanita if the need has already been fulfilled."

That didn't matter for reader Paul Sevcik, who still wants to donate $20.

"I'm a former teacher," he told me. "I know how big a deal it is when kids find the motivation to really excel at something. I want to encourage that."

Brady thinks Vanita should spend surplus donation money on first-class seats to Texas and a nice hotel room.

"Let her reward herself," he said. "Why the hell not? She's a great kid. She's worked hard. She deserves it."

Knock 'em dead in Lubbock, Vanita. We're pulling for you.


Vanita loves numbers ("She's one of my best students," says her math teacher, Andy Isom), and hopes that chess success will nab her a scholarship to Texas Tech, where she'd major in computer science.

Past stories:

Monday, June 20, 2011

Chess Poem: The Princess

Artwork by Mike Magnan

The Princess
By Annie Newcomer

This tale begins with a princess in flight,
how it ends, depends, if tactics are right.
It matters not if she’s pretty or thin;
her scheme needs “ smart “ with the fix the king’s in.

The kingsmen measure her worth to be small.
Make her move baby steps thinking she’ll fall.
But she develops her mind - masters whit,
as battlefields scare her not one wee bit.

Steadfastly, believes with all of her heart,
In games of intrigue she plays a big part.
Then a pony flies right over her head,
next castle, bishop, lady the king wed.

She steps on eighth rank; successful escape,
stunning “ princess ” turned queen, secures checkmate.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Polaneczky: Don't let 2G checkmate Vanita's future

Ronnie Polaneczky: Don't let 2G checkmate Vanita's future
Posted on Fri, Jun. 17, 2011
By Ronnie Polaneczky
Philadelphia Daily News
Daily News Columnist

WHILE CITY big-shots have been agitating over the school district's $629 million budget gap, a quieter financial worry is tugging at Vanita Young's heart.

Vanita, a lovely, soft-spoken junior at the Walter D. Palmer Charter School, needs $2,000 if she wants to attend the nation's most prestigious all-female chess tournament next month.

Two-grand is piddling coinage compared to what the district is facing. But it's astronomical to Vanita, 17, whose circumstances have been so tough that attendance at the tournament could actually alter the course of her future.

Proving that what happens after school matters as much as what occurs in the classroom.

"If Vanita can't go, because of just $2,000, it would be devastating," said Douglas Cox, her chess coach at Palmer. "No one deserves this more than she does."

The event is called the Susan Polgar Girls' Invitational and, in the world of chess, it's a BFD, as the kids like to say.

From July 24-29, 50 girls will be mentored by Polgar, the world's first female chess grand master (who's like Madonna to those fond of rooks). Then they'll compete for $120,000 in scholarships and prizes during the annual chess-fest at Texas Tech University, in Lubbock, Texas, where Polgar directs her eponymous Institute for Chess Excellence.

Each year, thousands of girls vie for the honor to represent their state. After Vanita beat out more than 600 girls at the PA State Scholastic Chess Championship last March, she got the exclusive call to attend the invitational.

"It's the best thing that ever happened to me," Vanita said yesterday, as her school's chess team, the Dark Knights, practiced nearby. "Any time I have a bad day, I think of winning and feel happy again."

Feeling happy is no small feat for Vanita, who was abandoned by her mom at age 2 and whose beloved dad - "He tried hard," she said - battled the bottle before dying suddenly of diabetes complications in 2007.

Vanita learned of his death right after triumphing at a chess competition hosted by the nonprofit After School Activities Partnership, whose mentors are like Vanita's second family. She'd discovered ASAP and chess years before, and couldn't stay away from the game.

Not even after she was assaulted while walking to her home in West Philly, where she lives with her dad's parents, Raymond and Algoria Evans. She'd just come from Clark Park, where she'd played chess with other amateurs who are regulars there.

"He wasn't even a player, but he was watching me in a way I didn't like, so I left," she said.

He followed her and grabbed her, but she was able to break free and the man was caught.

Vanita quickly resumed her playing because, she said, "It's always there for me. There's a whole family of people who care about me. It lets me go into deep thought."

"She's really focused," said Jennifer Shahade, Philly's hot, national chess star and author... She mentors ASAP's chess players and has been impressed by Vanita.

"Not a lot of girls take chess seriously," she said, "but she's determined."

Not just about the game but about what it might do for her. Vanita loves numbers ("She's one of my best students," says her math teacher, Andy Isom), and hopes that chess success will nab her a scholarship to Texas Tech, where she'd major in computer science.

But first she has to get to that pricey invitational. A dress-up-day fundraiser at her school netted $300. But she needs another $1,700 to pay for her and a chaperone to spend an exhilarating week at the invitational, mixing it up with girls like Vanita - quiet, focused, numbers-obsessed and eager to share their love of chess with the world.

"When I have kids, I want them all to be chess grand masters," said Vanita. "It helps you be a good, smart person."

Wanna help? Send a donation in Vanita's name to ASAP, 1520 Locust St., Suite 1104, Phila., PA 19102. More info: 215-545-2727.


Thursday, June 16, 2011

Polgar family in BBC Radio Documentary

Afternoon Play

  • The Chess Girls (Susan, Sofia, and Judit Polgar)

  • The emergence of the Polgar sisters in the 1970s and 80s rocked the chess world. In a heavily male dominated game, the three Hungarian girls (Susan, Sofia, and Judit Polgar) broke record after record. The youngest, Judit, was talked of as a potential world champion.

    The Chess Girls is the story of their parents, Laszlo and Klara Polgar, and how they defied the Communist authorities to conduct a remarkable educational experiment. Laszlo Polgar, convinced that any healthy child can be trained to become a genius, set out to prove his theory with his own children.

    This is a drama-documentary with excerpts from an interview with Laszlo and Klara Polgar recorded for the play. The writer, Lavinia Greenlaw, takes their account and re-creates the lives of the young Polgar family in their tiny Budapest flat. The fictional Laszlo is played by Kerry Shale, and Klara by Sally Orrock.

    Director: Chris Ledgard.

    Wednesday, June 15, 2011

    8th annual Susan Polgar Girls' Invitational (2011)

    Rules and Conditions for the 8th Annual Susan Polgar Girl’s Invitational (SPGI)
    July 24 – 29, 2011 at Texas Tech University (TTU) in Lubbock, Texas

    Over $120,000 in chess scholarships, chess prizes, netbook computers, etc.

    The annual Susan Polgar Girl’s Invitational, the most prestigious all-girls event in the United States, will be held at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas. The opening ceremony will be at 1:00 PM on July 24. The format this year is similar to 2010.

    • There will be a three (3) day intense world class training sessions with Susan Polgar and her team, followed by a 6 round (g/60) championship tournament.
    • The traditional Blitz, Puzzle Solving, Bughouse events will stay the same as in previous years.
    • There will be many chess prizes awarded, including scholarship(s) to Texas Tech University.

    Each state is allowed one representative. Official representative alternates may be substituted no later than June 15. (Susan Polgar and/or the new Polgar Committee may allow the host state to enter an additional qualified player.) Susan Polgar and/or the new Polgar Committee ( may allow exceptions to the June 1 entry/alternate deadline. Should the state affiliate fail to respond to the notice for this tournament, Susan Polgar and/or the Polgar Committee may determine the candidate from that state.

    Players must have been enrolled in a school (up to 12th grade) located in the state they represent, also of the year in which the tournament is held. Home-schooled students who are under the age of 19 on July 29th of the year in which the event is held or students who have never attended college on a full time basis prior to June 1 of the year in which the tournament is held, are eligible to represent the state in which they reside.

    Exception: If a player graduates from high school early and is already attending college, she may still represent her state if nominated. This is the decision of each state affiliate.

    VERY IMPORTANT NOTE: The participants of the Susan Polgar Girl’s Invitational DO NOT have to be high school students. Any qualifier under the age of 19 (by July 29th of the year in which the tournament is held) is eligible!

    Players are required to furnish the organizer an emergency phone number and the e-mail address of a parent/guardian. There is no fee to participate in the 2011 SPGI; however, players are responsible for their own travel, room and meal expenses. If players choose to stay and/or dine on TTU’s campus, inexpensive accommodations are available. Please note that all reservations and registrations MUST be made (and accommodation expenses prepaid) no later than June 25, 2010.

    Prizes: Trophies / plaques will be awarded to the winners of the Susan Polgar Girl’s Invitational Puzzle Solving, Blitz, and the SPGI Championship. Co-champions are recognized in the case of a tie, with each champion receiving a Champion’s Plaque or Trophy. The Champion (or Co-Champions) will automatically be invited to defend her/their title (must meet age requirement).

    Champion: TTU scholarship (equivalent to nearly $40,000 for an out of state student) + netbook computer + Champion's Plaque / Trophy

    2nd place: TTU scholarship (equivalent to nearly $40,000 for an out of state student) + additional prizes

    3rd place: TTU scholarship (equivalent to nearly $40,000 for an out of state student) + additional prizes

    Top under 13: netbook computer
    Top under 10: netbook computer

    The scholarship must be exercised no later than the Fall of 2013.

    The New Polgar Committee’s goal is to have all 50 states (including two representatives for California and two for Texas) and the District of Columbia represented. We strongly encourage each state and the District of Columbia affiliate to hold a scholastic championship tournament to determine each state’s champion and representative. Failing this, rating criteria may be acceptable. A scholastic girls’ champion or the highest rated girls’ scholastic player in a state who has no state affiliate of the USCF should contact the Polgar Committee as soon as possible (

    Special invitation for this year only: All past participants of the SPNI and SPGI (Susan Polgar National Invitational/Susan Polgar Girls’ Invitational 2004-2010) are invited to participate in the 2011 SPGI. The idea is to have the past participants learn my method of training so they can go back home and share their knowledge with the younger players. However, registration MUST be made ASAP since space is limited. There will be separate prizes for participants over the age of 19.

    Susan Polgar and/or the Polgar Committee ( and its members may elect to award wild cards each year for the Susan Polgar Girl’s Invitational.

    Special qualifying events: The Polgar Committee will award automatic qualifying spots to the reigning winners in each section of the annual Susan Polgar National Open for Girls (Arizona).

    Contact info: The Susan Polgar Foundation can be contacted at 806-742-7742 or through

    The new SPGI Chairperson is Martha Underwood (AZ).

    NOTICE TO ALL STATE OFFICIALS: Please send the nomination from your state to the Polgar Committee (

    For information and rates to stay and/or dine on TTU’s campus, please send an email to or

    Sunday, June 12, 2011

    Double Success

    Double Success
    Lubbock Avalanche Journal

    In January 1991, I became the first woman in history to earn the “Men’s” Grandmaster title (traditional FIDE requirement). In December 1991, my baby sister Judit became the second female in history to do the same. It took nearly 20 years later for another sister pair to earn the Grandmaster title.

    Last week, the World Chess Federation (FIDE) officially recognized Nadezhda Kosintseva as a Grandmaster. Her younger sister accomplished this title a few years ago. Congratulations to the Kosintseva sister for accomplishing this rare feat. Below is a game of Nadezhda earlier this year at the European Women’s Championship.

    Nadezhda Kosintseva (2567) - Ketevan Arakhamia-Grant, (2462) [B81]
    European Women’s Championship
    Tbilisi, Georgia (3), May 9, 2011

    1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 d6 6.g4 This is the famous Keres attack. Many Sicilian players as Black prefer to avoid it and try different move orders to get to the Scheveningen variation.

    6...e5 This is a rare response compared to the more popular 6...h6.

    7.Bb5+ A smart intermediate move which creates commotion for the Black camp. If instead White would have played 7.Nf5, Black would follow up with the energetic 7...h5 8.g5 Nxe4 9.Nxg7+ Bxg7 10.Nxe4 d5 with a double edged position.

    7...Bd7 8.Nb3 Perhaps being caught by surprise, White avoids the main line which continues with 8.Bxd7+ Qxd7 9.Nf5 h5. But this also means that White sacrifices a Pawn.

    8...Bxb5 9.Nxb5 Qd7 Black with this intermediate move, forks White's Knight on b5 as well as g4 Pawn. Black was also ok the capture the Pawn right away by 9...Nxe4 and then if 10.Qd5 respond with 10...Qd7.

    10.Qe2 Nxe4 Black follows the basic principal by capturing the central Pawn (versus a side Pawn) when you can. It feels that after 10...Nxg4 11.Rg1 White would have sufficient counter play for the Pawn.

    11.f3 After Queen takes on e4 (Qxe4), the White Knight would have been falling on b5.

    11...a6 Another intermediate move to counter attack instead of directly retreating the attacked Knight.

    12.N5d4 The best option. Of course 12.Nxd6+ would fail as Black's Knight would capture back with Ne4xd6, leaving White a piece down.

    12...Nf6 After 12...exd4, White wins the Knight and Pawn back with 13.Qxe4+ with a somewhat better position due the Black's isolated Pawn on d6.

    13.Bg5 Finally all White's minor pieces are developed and castling will be next on the agenda.

    13...Nc6 White would have compensation for the Pawn after 13...Be7 14.Nf5 0–0 15.0–0–0.

    14.0–0–0 At first 14.Bxf6 gxf6 15.Nf5 looks very tempting, with White's Knight arriving to an excellent looking outpost. The problem is that the Knight is unable to maintain its position after 15...Ne7.

    14...0–0–0 An interesting and probably better alternative was 14...Ne7 which questions the White Knight on d4, as the e5 Pawn would no longer be in a pin.

    15.Nxc6 Qxc6 White is still down a Pawn. However, it is white who clearly has the initiative.

    16.Rd3! Threatening to pin Black's Queen by Rc3.

    16...Qa4 After 16...Kb8, White’s position gets stronger after 17.Na5.

    17.Kb1 Be7 18.Rhd1 Kb8? 18...Rhe8 was safer.

    And the time arrived for action... 19.Nc5! Qc6 After 19...dxc5 White wins the sacrificed material back with a superior position. 20.Qxe5+ Ka8 21.Qxe7.

    20.Nxb7! White goes all out to open up files on the Queenside against Black's King.

    20...Kxb7 Naturally after 20...Qxb7, White would pin and win Black's Queen with 21.Rb3.

    21.Rc3 Qa4 The only move to keep the fight going. For example, if 21...Qb5 22.Rb3 or 21...Qd7 22.Rb3+ Ka7 23.Be3+ would both lose right away.

    22.Ra3 Qc6 Again an only move to hold the position together.

    23.Rdd3! White wisely brings additional ammunition to the attack.

    23...d5 Again the best defense, opening up the diagonal for Black's Bishop, as well as preparing to block a future check on the a7-g1 diagonal, by pushing d5-d4.

    24.Rdb3+ Ka7 25.Rc3 Qb7 If 25...Qb6 White would continue with the fancy 26.Rc7+! Qxc7 27.Qxa6+ Kb8 28.Qa8 checkmate, just as in the game.

    26.Rc7! Similarly to the previous variation, this combination works well here too.

    26….Bxa3 27.Qe3+ A fine in-between move to make sure White will not have to capture back on a3 with a Pawn.

    27...d4 28.Rxb7+ Kxb7 29.Qxa3 Let's evaluate the situation. Now that the clouds have cleared, White has a Queen against two Rooks, which normally would be fine for Black. However, in this case White's position is still to be preferred because the unsafe position of Black's King.

    29...Rhe8? This a mistake. Black had to play 29...Rd7 although that loses a Pawn too after 30.Qb4+ Ka7 31.Qc5+.

    30.Qb3+ Now Black will end up losing more than one Pawn.

    30...Ka7 31.Bxf6 gxf6 32.Qxf7+ Kb6 33.Qxf6+ Kb7 34.Qg7+ Kb6 35.Qxh7 Black lost three Pawns within the last five moves, now the situation is hopeless.

    35...Rf8 36.Qg6+ Kb5 37.a4+ Ka5 38.Qc6 and Black resigned. 1–0

    Friday, June 03, 2011

    The Revolutionary Mind

    The Revolutionary Mind
    by Renata Holcmann
    Columbia University

    I was recently interviewed by Renata Holcmann of Columbia University. With her permission, I would like to share what she wrote with you.

    The very first time I heard the name Polgar was when I was at a local chess tournament in my hometown of Papa, Hungary. Both me and my sister won first place in our categories and some people were murmuring that “they might be the next Polgar sisters.” This idea of sibling chess prodigies very much appealed to my mother and she encouraged us to keep playing and hoped that we -as sisters- would go far with chess. Unfortunately, this dream of hers evaporated in a sudden moment when my sister decided to quit chess when she lost a game to me. So from then on, it was only me, who followed the news about the Polgar sisters and dreamed of meeting them one day. But out of the three sisters I really wanted to meet Susan - the oldest one -, who was the fore-runner in the Polgar family and became a true icon, for many of her accomplishments, in the chess world.

    Susan (Zsuzsanna) Polgar was born in Budapest, on April 19th in 1969. Both her parents -Laszlo and Klara Polgar- were school teachers. When I asked Susan how she started to play chess, she quite surprised me with her answer: “Accidentally. I was searching for a new toy and found the chess set.” Then she went on explaining with quite an enthusiasm how she immediately fell in love with the shape of the pieces. She demanded her mother to play a game with her, but she told her that she has to wait until her father comes home and he would teach her then. Then the studying of this royal game began for Susan, just at the age of four! She very much enjoyed learning tactics and found the checkmate puzzles a lot of fun. Not long after her 4th birthday, she entered a chess tournament in Budapest. She competed in the 1st to 4th grade category (almost everyone was twice her age) and won all her ten games, becoming the Budapest Champion. After this event, her life changed forever. The media started following her every move and she was labeled as a “wunderkind.” Hungary’s reaction to her sudden success was divided: a small group of people responded positively to her great achievement, believing that she truly is a chess prodigy. While others started attacking her parents for not letting her play with dolls or at the playground, instead making her sit by the chessboard for hours. This was the bigger group, the pessimists and jealous crowd who also thought that her winning the Budapest Champion title was just an accident, a one-time lucky event and saw no future for her in chess. They could not be more wrong about her…

    When Susan turned six years old, her parents made a decision to home-school her since she already knew how to read and write, was years ahead in Math and also spoke Russian fluently. Susan claims, “My Russian became almost as good as my native tongue” due to being enrolled in a nursery school in the previous years where they only spoke Russian. Also, not being in school all day, gave her the chance to spend more time with chess. Predictably, because of this, her parents were constantly attacked in the media. Susan emphasized how much her parents sacrificed for her and her sisters to make it possible for them to succeed. There were many hurdles over the years, but they gave a tremendous support for them at all times. At the time in Hungary, it was acceptable for a high-school aged athlete to be home-schooled in order to practice more and travel to competitions, but nobody had ever heard of keeping a child home -from the very beginning, grade one- to improve her chess skills! Then again, the world still had to wait and see how Susan’s hard work and determination would pave the road to her successful future.

    Susan has two sisters, Sophia who is five and a half years younger and Judit, who is seven years younger than her. Being the oldest one, Susan often taught her sisters chess throughout the years, but she was also setting a good example for them about her work ethic. She worked extremely hard, some days practiced even six to eight hours! Usually, she played in ten to twelve tournaments per year. These were long competitions that lasted two or three weeks. Starting from age four, Susan studied from books and studied with different chess coaches. From our conversation I found out that her father was an excellent teacher, but she also had other influential coaches in her life. For instance, Eva Karakas gave Susan the love for the game, but she gained a tremendous amount of knowledge from Laszlo Hazai and Lev Psakhis as well. She studied chess in various ways:

    * Solved puzzles to improve her tactical and calculation skills

    * Studied many grandmasters’ games to understand different strategies

    * Memorized master games and played blindfold chess to improve her visualization skills

    * Studied many endgames

    * Played a lot of practice games with family members and friends

    * Regularly played in club tournaments

    In 1979, at the age of ten, Susan became a National Woman Master after finishing in sixth place in the Hungarian Women’s Championship. In 1982, she earned her first FIDE Master norm after beating a much higher ranked player -Laszlo Liptay- with black pieces in the last round of the Balatonbereny, Hungary tournament. (FIDE is the World Chess Federation.) Soon after that she earned her other two norms and became a FIDE Master and automatically received her Hungarian National Master title as well, since the FIDE Master title is a higher. I asked Susan how she felt when she was just a child, competing against -very strong- adult players, all the time. She told me that she greatly enjoyed the challenge, and it made her feel big, she wanted to be looked at more than just a little girl, she wanted to be taken seriously.

    In 1981 she played abroad for the first time, in the World Under-16 Girls’ Championship in Westergate, England. It was a tough tournament, but after defeating two main rivals of the tourney -the English Teresa Needham and the Polish Jolanta Rojek- she only needed a draw in the last round against the American Baracca Shabbaz to win 1st place. So even though she was up a pawn, she could agree to a draw and with that she captured the World Under-16 Girl Chess Champion title.

    Susan, even though she was a top-class player- was left out of many chess tournaments due to being a female chess player. According to Susan, her the most painful experience was when she was denied the chance to compete in the Men’s World Chess Championship, -after qualifying for it from the overall Hungarian Championship- providing her an unreasonable explanation that it was only for men and she could not represent Hungary. The most shocking fact was that she was officially the #1 ranked female player on the July 1984 world rating list, but still FIDE would not allow her to play. I can only imagine the sadness she must have experienced at that time, but she turned her frustration to strength and from then on -because of this unfair treatment-, she tirelessly fought for equality in chess. In the 1986 FIDE Congress she finally achieved that they officially changed the name of this event, leaving the “Men’s” part out of it and making the title the World Chess Championship. So due to Susan’s incredible success in chess and her courage to stand up and fight for her beliefs, today girls and women can compete in chess tournaments among men.

    Susan‘s prowess in chess rightfully earned her a place to be in the highest circles of the chess world and this gave her the opportunity to not only meet, but play chess with many of the most elite chess players and world champions of our times. Among them were Botvinnik, Smyslov, Tal, Spassky, Fischer, Karpov, Kasparov and Anand.

    In 1984, after ten years of hard work and sacrifices, Susan became an International Master. In the summer of 1988, in Royan, France, Susan earned her very first GM (grandmaster) norm. A year later, she earned her second GM norm, in Leon, Spain. Also, in 1988, she was selected with her two sisters –Sophia and Judit- along with Ildiko Madl to represent Hungary in the Olympiad in Thesasaloniki, Greece. Susan played on the first board all the fourteen games -without a break- and scored 10.5 and did not lose a single game! Her sisters and Ildiko also performed well and the Hungarian teenage team won the Olympiads, beating the “unbeatable” Soviet team.

    In 1990, the Hungarian team –with the same players- won the gold medal again in Novi Sad. But besides the team’s gold medal, the Polgar sisters also won individual gold medals on board one, two and three. (Ildiko Madl only played two games at this time.) This time, Susan scored 11 points, winning eight games and drawing six. This again, was truly an unbelievable achievement at such a high-class competition.

    In January of 1991, Susan earned her final GM norm in Pamplona, Spain and with that she became the first woman ever to earn the highest chess title of International Grandmaster. When I asked her what it meant to her to achieve this great height in chess, she told me that: “It was very special to me. Even when I was a teenager, many professional players doubted me. They simply didn’t believe that it was possible for a woman to meet all the requirements to earn the Men’s Grandmaster title. I was very eager to get there and was working very hard for many years. So when I finally earned the title, it was justification as well as fulfillment of my long-awaited dream.”

    In 1992, the Hungarian Chess Federation organized the Blitz (5 min.) and Rapid (30 min.) Women’s World Championship in Budapest. Susan scored 22.5 points out of 25 games and won 1st place. In the fifteen-round rapid tournament, she collected 12 points without losing a single game and again finished ahead of her sisters, at 1st place. Susan repeated these phenomenal performances in later years and in 1996 she won her fourth Women’s World Chess Championships. To add to that, she is the only World Champion, male or female, who ever won the triple crown (blitz, rapid and classical world championships). She is also a five-time Olympic Chess Champion who collected ten overall medals (five gold, four silver, and one bronze). When I asked her about her favorite game, she told me that it was from the 2004 Olympiad, in Calvia, against Maia Chiburdanidze, the former Women's World Champion. I looked at the game. It was truly brilliant, full of tactical ideas and strategic maneuvering. In the endgame, Susan had two passed pawns -supported by her rook- that were unstoppable, so after the 39th move Chiburdanidze resigned.

    Susan holds a record for 56 consecutive Olympiad game unbeaten streak and all on board one. In fact, she has never lost a single game. In 2005, Susan played 326 simultaneous games (won 309, drew 14 and lost only 3), and by doing so, she broke four previous world records. In 2006, she became the Woman’s Chess Cup Champion. She won the US Open Blitz Chess Championship three times, in 2003, in 2005 and in 2006, ahead of all the other male participants.

    When I asked her how she could become such a strong chess player -in other words, what was her recipe for success- she told me “The love of the game was number one, then discipline, but also, perseverance and motivation were essential too.” In describing herself as a chess player, I learned that first, she wants to achieve a solid base, so she plays the opening carefully. She always plans ahead, looks at the whole picture and reacts to the needs of the situation at all times. So in order to succeed, one must be a flexible, universal player.

    In 2002, Susan founded the Susan Polgar Foundation, a non-profit organization to promote chess as an educational tool –especially among girls-, as well as a social and a competitive activity. She is also the director of SPICE, the Susan Polgar Institute for Chess Excellence at Texas Tech University where she has been coaching the Knight Raiders Chess Team. She expressed to me that she greatly enjoys sharing her knowledge with her students and loves to see them improve and perform well in tournaments.

    Her chess team recently had a huge success at the Pan-American Intercollegiate Team Chess Championship, beating teams like Yale and Stanford. The Texas Tech Knight Raiders made the Final Four in its first try in Division I. They won the Final Four which is the National Division I Championship in the second try, in spite of being the lowest seed. Again, she made history.

    In an article called, “Knight Raiders Win National Championship” Paul Truong said that: “Susan became the first female to coach a men’s Division I team to the National Championship. You cannot even imagine, let’s say, a female coaching a men’s basketball team or men’s football team to the national title, but in chess, she showed that it can happen.”

    Susan also sponsors and organizes several prominent annual events, such as the Susan Polgar World Open and National Open for Boys and Girls, the Susan Polgar National Invitational for Girls Championship and the prestigious SPICE Cup at Texas Tech University.

    Over the years, Susan won many impressive awards for her work. Here are some examples:

    * “Chess Educator of the Year” (2003, she was the first recipient ever)

    * “US Scholastic Chess Ambassador” (2006, again, she was the first recipient ever)

    * Three-time Winner of the Chess Journalists of America Award for Best Magazine Column and Best Endgame Analysis

    I asked Susan what her message is to today’s young chess players. This is what she responded: “I believe chess is a great opportunity. Whether you just play for fun or play competitively, you improve your thinking skills and learn many life skills. Also, you can use chess to open doors to a better future. In the United States there are more than thirty colleges that offer chess scholarships. In addition, chess can also help you get job interviews and potentially help you get hired. It truly has countless benefits.” I could not agree with her more.

    Susan Polgar truly made a difference in the world. By breaking the gender barrier, she proved that woman can play chess just as well as men or even better. Due to her efforts to achieve equality in chess, today, girls and women do not have to go through any hurdles –that she experienced- but can freely play chess anywhere in the world. In my view, sports must have freedom, so that any athlete/player can reach their full potentials without facing unnecessary obstacles along the way. Susan is one of the purest examples of motivation and perseverance; she showed the world that everything is possible if you set your mind to it and work hard. She is my inspiration and I am certain that there are many others out there who feel the same way.

    Murali to represent Wisconsin at SP Girls' Invitational

    Shorewood Chess Whiz to Compete in National Competition

    Shorewood Freshman Anjana Murali makes way for girls in male dominated sport.
    By Jenny Heyden 3:14pm

    In the coming weeks, Shorewood High School freshman Anjana Murali will pack her bags and head southwest, to represent Wisconsin as the top female chess player from the state in the age group of 14 and under, in a national competition.

    As a standout in a male-dominated sport and after taking ninth place nationally in the 2011 All-Girls National, Anjana will head to Texas Tech University in late July to compete in an all-female chess competition held by chess champion, Susan Polgar.

    Anajana's love for chess started when her father introduced her to the strategic game of chess as a fifth-grader. He led her research and find tournaments and she began competing with the Wisconsin Scholastic Chess Federation at a young age in a league “totally dominated by boys.” She competed in the first all girls chess tournament in 2006 and took fourth place.

    “I was so motivated," she said. "I won a big pink trophy and it inspired me to keep playing.”

    Now she has moved up and is a rated player in the US Chess Federation, and ranks around 1200 in the country in her age group of 14. She hopes to reach first board varsity next year here in Shorewood, and to encourage more girls to play.

    "I would really like to encourage and inspire more girls to play chess because it is a fun, strategic game that is dominated by male players and needs more female participation," she said.

    In addition, Anjana, along with Alyah Quereshi from Brookfield, have been selected, this fall, to head to Chicago and coordinate the Girl Scouts World Forum, the only event of its kind in the US.

    Arriving in Shorewood from Helena, Montana, in fifth grade, Anjana was no stranger to scouting. Now, her troupe has attained the cadet level, and she is working towards her silver award. She is now on her way to join over 600 girls from 146 countries in one of four cities in the world next year to celebrate 100 years of Girl Scouts.

    Anjana gave a very deft explanation of the Girl Scouts’ taxonomy, quickly articulating the mission and the connection between Girl Scouts USA and the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals (MDG). Three of these UN MDG goals have been adopted by the Girl Scouts Worldwide, and clearly also by Anjana in her activities here in Shorewood: Help eradicate child poverty, clean up the environment and promote girls’ involvement in activities.

    But, it doesn’t stop there.

    It took Anjana time to explain the series of honors she has achieved in the last year. Top honors and placements in many groups in Shorewood like Model UN, robotics, Science Olympiad, orchestra, playing Indian violin, Girls Scouts, chess, tutoring children of immigrant families (her own independent program) and multiple accolades in external pursuits such as learning Sanskrit as well as her native language, Tamil, and covering sports for Ripples, Shorewood High School's student newspaper, just to name a few.

    She says because the family does not own a television, she is “always looking for things to keep me busy.”